Creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinach

creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinachWell, it’s official, winter seems to have arrived. Today was the first really cold morning that I left the house wearing a winter coat, scarf, gloves and ear warmers. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with winter…snow is fun only during the first snowfall, until you have to shovel or dig out your car. I hate being cold but I love skiing, ice skating and hot chocolate (with marshmallows).

While I miss the warmer summer months, the best thing about winter (and the holidays) is all the rich food we get to eat! Holiday cookies, cakes, drinks – winter is definitely “eating” season. When you feel like curling up with a warm comforting dinner but you don’t want to completely ruin your diet, caramelized onion and spinach butternut squash pasta is the perfect dish. I had never thought to use squash as a pasta sauce until I found this recipe from Lauren’s Latest. Genius! The pureed butternut squash feels like a creamy, decadent sauce, but in reality you’re still eating your veggies! I added caramelized onions and spinach to bulk up the dish without adding meat, but you could surely add in chicken, sausage, etc.

creamy butternut squash pasta with caramelized onions and spinach

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Lightened-up zucchini bread

lightened-up zucchini bread | Lighten Up!If eating your veggies is so important, does it matter HOW you eat them? I’ve heard about parents sneaking fruits and vegetables into their children’s food without them knowing, just to make sure they’re getting their allotment of nutrients. Apparently the same concept works for adults, although hopefully there’s a lot less “sneaking” going on! Take zucchini for example. Definitely not my number 1 pick – (unless they’re in “zoodle” form, aka zucchini noodles, and that’s a whole different story). Zucchini in my dessert, however, has a very different ring to it! Eat dessert and get my daily dose of veggies too? I’ll take it!

Zucchini bread is not something I grew up on, but with the influx of zucchini recipes flying around Pinterest lately, I totally felt peer-pressured (in a good way) to bake something with zucchini while it’s still in season. Still have plenty of zucchini taking up space in your refrigerator? This is a totally non-zoodles way to use them up. This zucchini bread is made with your typical cake ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, but it’s lightened up with Greek yogurt (what else?) and the end result is a deliciously moist, sweet-but-not-too-sweet loaf cake with little specks of green zucchini peeking out from each slice. I changed up the recipe slightly by using less vegetable oil, egg whites, and vanilla. Slice up the zucchini bread for breakfast, snack or dessert. We love to reheat slices in the microwave, but leftovers are great cold too! The hubby went crazy over it, and don’t worry, he was well aware of the zucchini 🙂

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Creamy balsamic mushroom pasta

creamy balsamic mushroom pasta

We are, without a doubt, “Greek yogurt people.” If there’s one item that’s consistently on my grocery list each week and one item that always fills our refrigerator shelves, it’s Greek yogurt. We can (and have been known to) literally consume it for almost every meal. The hubby brings the flavored single-serve containers to work every day for breakfast, I like the plain variety with honey and berries for breakfast/snack, but my favorite way to use Greek yogurt is in recipes and baking. Who knew that yogurt could replace butter, oil, sour cream, heavy cream, cream cheese, mayo…you name it, you could probably swap it out with Greek yogurt and save yourself the fat and calories…plus get an added protein boost! Seriously, what did we DO before Greek yogurt was invented? The stuff is ridiculously versatile – it lightens up the most decadent of baked goods, it’s amazing on its own or with fruit/granola mixed in, and, in the case of this recipe, it turns everyday sauces into creamy deliciousness.

This is one hearty dish that just happens to be vegetarian! The sweet caramelized onions balance out the meatiness of the mushrooms. Spinach adds protein, calcium, fiber and that deliciously leafy green color. The sauce is just to-die-for…sweet and tart balsamic vinegar and crisp white wine swirled together with a dollop of thick, creamy Greek yogurt. A sauce that’s both creamy AND packed with protein? Winning combination! I was craving a long pasta so I used fettuccine, but you could substitute with your favorite whole wheat or gluten-free pasta (short or long). Another recipe that’s perfect for meatless Monday!

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Lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoes

lemon linguine with broccoli and tomatoesWhile I love to cook, side dishes always seem to throw me for a loop. Isn’t it enough that I’m cooking a main course? Now I ALSO have to figure out what to cook as a complimentary side dish? That seems like a lot of work! Luckily, I came up with this recipe which can double as either an entree or a side dish! Fresh and lightly dressed pasta tossed with fresh vegetables makes for a bright and delicious vegetarian dish. I had broccoli and tomatoes on hand, but any veggies you have in the fridge would work.

Simply cook up the veggies, cook up the pasta and mix them together with a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. This is the perfect side dish for fish, poultry or meat. I especially love pairing the pasta with salmon or shrimp since lemon and fish are a match made in heaven! Top the veggie pasta with a little grated Parmesan (or a lot, in my case) and a light, easy dinner is ready to go in 30 minutes.

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Entertaining: appetizer and dessert kabobs

app dessert kabobOne of my favorite treats as a kid was a corn dog on a stick, and for good reason. There was something amazing about the hot dog wrapped in sweet corn batter that was just plain delicious, but the fact that it was on a stick made it that much more fun to eat. Apparently, the “food on a stick” concept still applies because these appetizer and dessert kabobs were a hit at our last BBQ! The possibilities are endless (and involve minimal to zero cooking/baking), so use your imagination to create your own delicious kabob combination. I’ve listed a few of my ideas for some inspiration and all are super easy and quick to put together!

The appetizer kabobs are basically a cheese plate on a stick — sweet fruit paired with tangy cheese. I used grapes, strawberries, cheddar and colby jack on 10″ bamboo skewers (about $1 at the grocery store). The cheddar was a little crumbly going onto the skewers, so I would stick with softer cheeses (mozzarella would be great)! These would be great as an “antipasto” skewer, maybe with prosciutto or pepperoni and pitted olives.
app dessert kabob

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Lightened-up lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

lightened-up lemon blueberry cheesecake barsI’ve never met a cheesecake I didn’t like. You name it — chocolate, cherry, strawberry, blueberry…the decadent creaminess is something that I crave every so often. That being said, I’m SO happy that lightened-up cheesecake exists (mostly thanks to Greek yogurt)! Since blueberries are in season and we had a few cartons in the fridge, I decided to try out a lemon-blueberry version of these cheesecake bars. They turned out AMAZING and they were a huge hit with the hubby (and his best man)!

lightened-up lemon blueberry cheesecake barsI used coconut oil to make the graham cracker crust, which gave the bars a very subtle coconut flavor. The thick layer of cheesecake filling is densely sweet, tart and ridiculously creamy with little bursts of lemon zest and blueberries in each bite. Let me tell you, these taste exactly like the real thing but you’ll never miss the fat and calories! The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for them to chill for 3 hours, so plan ahead!

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Citrusy Mexican-style Quinoa

citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten UpQuinoa may be my new favorite go-to side dish for a number of reasons:
1. It’s super easy to make — just like pasta, all you need to do is boil water!
2. It’s called a “superfood” for a reason. Quinoa is a seed that is actually a complete protein because it includes all 9 essential amino acids. As if that wasn’t good enough, it’s also cholesterol-free and gluten-free!
3. It takes on whatever flavors you put into it…that means endless possibilities for quinoa recipes!
4. It can be used a million different ways and is a perfect make-ahead meal. Cook up a big batch and have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love bulking up my salads with quinoa for lunch!

I was hosting dinner for some friends and knew this would be a tasty side dish — it’s so refreshing thanks to the fresh fruit and veggies and has a deliciously Mexican spin because of the cilantro and lime. If you’re looking for a quinoa-based main course, check out the original recipe here. Because I wanted to serve this as a side dish, I swapped out the chicken and added more veggies. The oranges and red pepper add the right amount of sweetness and the avocado is the perfect amount of creaminess. One key element to flavorful quinoa is the “dressing.” I loved the citrusy flavor of the dressing, which is just lime and orange juice mixed with olive oil, honey and cilantro. If you’re not a cilantro fan, just leave it out — you’ll still get the bold citrusy flavors from the dressing. The quinoa was light and refreshing, and because it keeps so well in the fridge, we had plenty of leftovers for the week (aka quinoa salad, see pic below!)
citrusy mexican-style quinoa | Lighten Up

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